The Chelten Plaza Save-A-Lot wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes, but there Barbara Monroe and Antonio Green stood, by the front door, at 6:50 a.m. on scrape-ice-from-car-windows grand-opening Friday.
“I expect some good things. Maybe they’ll have some specials,” said Monroe of what drove her to be first in line at the new Germantown neighborhood supermarket.
“They sent something out in the mail,” added Green. “I didn’t want to miss it.”
He didn’t miss a thing. By the time the front door opened, another five or six people had joined the line. What they saw when they were the first customers to enter Save-A-Lot was a brightly lit, stacked to the shelf’s edge, eight-aisle supermarket in which staff was still scrambling to make sure everything was in place.
The produce still showed signs of watering. The meats were still being carried out by workers that operator Shawn Rinnier said arrived at 2 a.m. to make sure cuts would be fresh, and not hours-old, on opening day. Vendors were still carrying orange juice and fresh bread in.
After leading a brief tour, the hyper Rinnier talked about how he woke his son up at 5 a.m. because he was so excited for the day. He also discussed how prices and variety are keys to success after a year featuring the drama of some locals looking down on the type of store he would operate.
“It’s not just to impress them,” he said of the Anjou pears, tofu and other items not immediately associated with a Save-A-Lot. “If they come in and say it’s nice, but I can’t get what I want, I defeated the purpose.”
After Rinnier referenced a Germantown Community Connection meeting when someone complained, “Save-A-Lot doesn’t even carry Dietz and Watson products,” he pointed out the meats-department shelf with Dietz and Watson hot dogs and other items.
“So, we went out and got Dietz and Watson,” he said. “If someone requests we bring something in, we’ll try to bring it in. … Whatever I could get my hands on, I squeezed in here.”
By the front door, the coupon-flyer display reads “Look Here for Shockingly Low Prices.” After 45 minutes scouring the aisles, first customer Monroe said it was “very nice” but gave a hand signal indicating some prices were a little higher than she’d hoped.
Here are a few price points seen in the 17,500 square foot market: three pumpkin or sweet potato pies for $10, strawberries for $3.99/container, ground sirloin for $3.79/pound, Snapple iced tea for $5.99/12-pack, Romaine lettuce for $1.29 and two Entenmann’s products for $6.
As far as a gallon of 2-percent milk is concerned, the Save-A-Lot brand was $3.75 and Lehigh Valley was $4.10. When it comes to burger rolls, Grissom’s cost $0.89 for a pack while Stroehmann was $2.99.
“I fished around and found the bargains,” said Monroe, who bought some Dietz and Watson sausage, pudding, butter, orange juice and “Snickers and Milky Ways that were on sale for a dollar.”
The store being open 24 hours means two things: more hires (a Chelten Plaza fact sheet said the new location resulted in 30 new jobs) and accessibility since food-stamp cards register more credit at 12:01 a.m. Rinnier’s overarching message Friday was offer products for any prospective customer in the neighborhood.
Not a protester in sight
Throughout its first few hours of business, Save-A-Lot had a steady stream of customers. Some took advantage of the free coffee and pastries outside, near where Chelten Plaza developer Patrick Burns placed blown-up pictures of what the site looked like when it housed a dilapidated gas station and beer distributor just last year.
When 9 a.m. arrived, there was a low-frills countdown leading up to Rinnier taking three snips with a pair of small orange scissors to cut the Save-A-Lot ribbon marking the ceremonial store opening. He cut off a little piece of it and gave it to his son. There wasn’t a Chelten Plaza/Say No To Save-A-Lot protester in sight.
“This is a great project for the neighborhood. Just the jobs alone,” said outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller who wasn’t among the city politicos in New York City for this weekend’s Pennsylvania Society because she’s busy packing up her City Hall offices. “Anytime there’s development, people agree and disagree about it, but this place was a mess before. Hopefully, everybody comes together and supports this.”